LLANOS REPEATS, WHITMORE 4-PEATS
Stoltz second, but still claims 4th XTERRA Series title, as does "J-Dawg"
List of Champions
INCLINE VILLAGE, NV - On a crisp, clear, and cool day at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, Eneko Llanos and Jamie Whitmore brilliantly navigated a choppy swim, grueling mountain bike course and tricky trail run to win the men's and women's pro divisions at the Nissan Xterra USA Championship.
In his trademark steady, smooth, and mistake-free style, Llanos came out of the water first with Brent McMahon, posted the second-best bike split and had the third fastest run to put away Conrad Stoltz, Mike Vine, and a contingent of world-class challengers.
The soft-spoken Spaniard had a relatively lonely day. After pulling away from the lead swimmers at the very beginning of the bike he climbed up the sandy, 1,600-foot stretch of Tunnel Creek road by himself, then coasted along the famous Flume Trail with nobody around but the camera men. It wasn't until after the final summit 8,700 feet above sea level that Stoltz caught up.
"Conrad is very strong on the bike and very fast on the downhills, and he passed me on the downhill," said Llanos, the reigning and two-time XTERRA World Champ. "I tried to follow him but I didn't want to take too many risks because I knew that I could catch him on the run so I just went my speed and on the run I felt very good."
Turned out to be a smart strategy, and Stoltz - who had the fastest bike of the day - said that could've been the difference.
"I only passed him halfway on the downhill with just a few miles to make up time and I rode really hard towards the end and he must have gone pretty easy because I made a lot of time," said Stoltz, who went out on the run 1:14 in front. "So when I started to run I was relatively tired because I had such a hard bike and I think he was relatively fresh."
The difference was noticeable, with the small-framed Llanos gliding effortlessly along the log and rock creek crossings.
"This course is very twisty and winding with lots of ups and downs and it suits a little guy better," said Stoltz, one of the bigger athletes racing XTERRA. "Us big guys like to go straight and fast, ya know. But that didn't really matter, because even if I had a good run I wouldn't have been able to beat Eneko today, he was strong."
Stoltz, who won this race and the Pro Series three straight years from 2001-03, reclaimed his Series belt by posting the best four scores of the year (three first places and this second today).
Third-place finisher Mike Vine wasn't sure he'd even have the chance to contend.
"I'm really happy with how it turned out because I had the worst swim I ever had," Vine said. "I had my goggles kicked off in the first 100 yards, took a couple mouthfuls, was gasping for air and had a panic attack. I had to regain my composure and try to get though that swim and I ended up swimming it without my goggles because they wouldn't seal. It was awful."
Vine wasn't the only one who struggled in the wind-whipped cold choppy Lake Tahoe, but he definitely recovered better than most. His bike split was second-best just seconds shy of the Caveman's, and he had the fourth fastest scramble.
"I was just battling to hold my position in the points today. I finished a lot better than I thought I would after the swim. Seth Wealing was bearing down on me on the run and my legs were rubbery but I was able to serge a bit in the last part to create a gap," said Vine, who's win at Keystone combined with today's third propelled him from fourth to second in the Series.
Seth Wealing had a tremendous race for fourth, and was the top American on the day. He came out of the water third, stayed with the leaders on the bike and had the sixth best run. It was at XTERRA three years ago where he got his start in pro racing before World Cup pulled him away.
"I started in this so it's coming back home for me and I love it," said Wealing. "It's the toughest race but so much fun, and man it's beautiful up here. The bike course was awesome, like a bobsled track up there and you can just get rolling."
Francisco Serrano had a great season finale, and managed to hold off Olivier Marceau on the run to get 5th (and also 5th in the Series). Marceau, whose raced 15 times since Keystone on Aug. 13, simply ran out of gas but still finished sixth overall and third in the Series. He won the XTERRA European Tour title for the second straight season at Germany three weeks ago.
Brent McMahon had a bid of bad luck as something sharp sliced right through the center of his tire. A six-minute fix threw off his rhythm, his heart rate, and his chance to stay in 2nd place in the Series. Placing 13th was as close to tragic as he could get as he dropped from second to fourth.
Last year's USA Champ Josiah Middaugh finished ninth today, which was good enough to be the highest scoring American in the Series (6th overall) for the second year in a row. Even better news for Middaugh came on Monday, Sept. 26, as his wife Ingrid gave birth to their second child, a boy named Porter.
Also of note is Chris Legh, who had the fastest run in his first XTERRA of the season and finished a very respectable 7th. Credit also to 40-year-young pro Andrew Noble who placed 8th on the day and 8th in the Series.
WHITMORE MAKES IT FOUR-IN-A-ROW IN TAHOE, AND NOTCHES 26TH CAREER XTERRA VICTORY
"In all the years that I raced here this definitely was the sweetest victory because it really was the hardest fought," said Jamie Whitmore, the winningest XTERRA pro of all-time.
That's understandable, considering the slim 35-second margin of victory against her archrival Melanie McQuaid. It's the closest the women's race has ever been, and it's been like that all year. Whitmore also pulled out a 36-second win in Richmond and a 24-second spread in Milwaukee at McQuaid's expense.
The two have finished 1-2 in 15 of the last 16 races now, with "J-Dawg" up 9-6. That stat withstood the toughest of challenges today with the presence of Barb Lindquist.
Arguably the best female triathlete in the World over the last six years, Lindquist proved why by putting more than four minutes on Jamie and Melanie on the swim and holding them off on the bike until past the midway point. Not bad for a 36-year-old who's had her mountain bike for three months and raced four times (Chicago, Boston, Japan, and China) in the previous five weeks.
Still, this is the Jamie and Melanie show. Whitmore caught Lindquist a little past halfway and described the scene like this."the reason I started triathlons was because of Barb. I graduated from college and saw her on TV and wanted to be like her, she's been a great role model and inspiration. So it was such an honor to catch her, I was like 'Hey Barb, good job, can I pass ya' and she was really cool about letting me by."
McQuaid caught Lindquist a bit later at the Tunnel Creek road downhill. Whitmore went out on the run first, with McQuaid about a minute-thirty back and Lindquist another minute behind her.
The determination that McQuaid showed in winning her first race at altitude in Keystone last month came through on the run as she made up more than a minute while chasing down Whitmore.
"Today she (Melanie) proved she's one tough cookie because if she's behind normally you can kiss her off on the run but she worked her butt off and made me work mine off on the run so it really was a sweet victory."
"I went as hard as I could on the run," said McQuaid. "The first lap I couldn't see Jamie at all and then I could see Barb behind me and then the second lap Jamie was right there. Of course, she could see that I was right there too and she picked it up on the second lap. I was closing and then she picked it up. If this was a course where you couldn't see each other things might have been different."
It wasn't, however, and for the fourth straight year Whitmore came away with a big payday, $5,000 for winning the race and $14,000 for winning the Series. McQuaid settles for $4,000 and $7,000.
Lindquist had the second fastest run to finish in third, and she didn't have a bad bike either (7th best). It's the last race for the legend on U.S. soil. Next month she'll end her career at a World Cup race in New Zealand.
"This was awesome," she said. "It was a fun race because there wasn't any pressure and I had no idea how I'd do and nobody had any idea how I'd do. Plus, I just got a mountain bike three months ago and I probably rode it a total of 6-or-7 hours before I arrived here last week."
About retiring Lindquist added "I'll miss racing and the sport a little bit but it's really rare when an athlete gets to choose their time to leave a sport. A lot are forced out because of injury and different reasons but I'm choosing to close this chapter and move on and that's good."
Another legend, Greg Welch who co-hosted the day as the XTERRA announcer along with Whit Raymond, had this to say. "I'm happy that she's finishing it out at XTERRA but I'm really bummed that she's actually going away because she's awesome. The ultimate professional. She held the No. 1 spot on the ITU rankings longer than anybody else, and she was the best woman in the world from 1999-2005 on the World Cup circuit."
Lindquist jokingly left open the door to an XTERRA return by saying "maybe I'll pop out a couple babies and come back at the age of 40 and give these guys a run for their money."
Danelle Kabush had her best race of the season to finish in fourth and move up two spots in the Series standings to sixth. Candy Angle solidified her spot at No. 3 in the Series with a fifth place finish. Jessica Harrison had the fastest run, finished sixth in the race and fourth in the series. Melissa Thomas overcame a second-choice bike to place seventh in the race and fifth in the Series. Jimena Florit had the fastest bike for the second straight race but came out of the water 12 minutes behind Jamie and Melanie.
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